July 2023 Vol. 78 No. 7



Oefner Provides Updates on Houston Wastewater Program 

Daniel Oefner, Assistant Director for Wastewater Operations, City of Houston
Daniel Oefner, Assistant Director for Wastewater Operations, City of Houston

Daniel Oefner, ENV SP, P.E., Assistant Director for Wastewater Operations at the city of Houston, was the guest speaker at the Underground Construction Technology Association’s Gulf Coast Chapter luncheon on June 7 at Maggiano’s Little Italy, Houston. About 100 people gathered at the bi-monthly networking and informational luncheon. 

Starting out with an overview of the Houston system, Oefner said that 70.97 percent of piping material was plastic and 29.03 percent consisted of non-plastic materials including concrete. He stressed that the goal of the wastewater department was to provide relief for customers within 24 hours. 

About 100 people attended the UCTA’s Gulf Coast Chapter luncheon on June 7.
About 100 people attended the UCTA’s Gulf Coast Chapter luncheon on June 7.

Oefner related that the EPA Consent Decree that Houston is operating under started in 2021 and is in effect until 2036. Part of that agreement requires the city to assess its entire system within 10 years. That includes 6,200 miles of gravity force mains and 129,600 manholes. 

He pointed out that Houston is aggressively attacking sanitary sewer overflows (SSOs). “We are striving to stop SSOs before they happen.” Part of that strategy involves the installation of 3,000 new smart monitors to date with more on the way. 

Oefner said the department is committed to the remediation of structural deficiencies of category four or five as defined by the NASSCO Pipeline Assessment and Certification Program. 

He added that as far as challenges facing the city, “supply chain and materials are still an issue, but staffing remains the bigger issue.” UI 


UCTA, uctaonline.org 

Marcellus Gas Pipeline Construction Moves Ahead on Congressional Deal 

During the past six years, five major pipeline projects that were designed to ship Appalachian gas to East Coast markets have been canceled, for the most part due to regulatory impasses and associated costs. A recent rare exception is the 303-mile Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP) from the Marcellus Shale, under development by Equitrans Midstream and NextEra Energy. 

Although already 94 percent complete, it literally took an act of Congress to finally clear the path for MVP’s completion. President Joe Biden signed legislation in June that raised the nation’s debt limit and ratified and approved all permits and authorizations necessary for the construction and initial operation of MVP. 

The legislation directs federal agencies to maintain such authorizations and requires the Secretary of the Army to issue all permits or verifications necessary to complete project construction and allow for MVP’s operation and maintenance. 

Given the legislation, and assuming the timely issuance of the few remaining authorizations, Equitrans said it intends to work with its project partners to complete construction of MVP by year-end 2023, at an estimated total project cost of approximately $6.6 billion. 

“We are grateful for the full support of the White House, as well as the strong leadership of Democratic and Republican legislators for recognizing the MVP as a  
critical energy infrastructure project,” Equitrans said in a statement.  

Minnesota Governor signs $2.6 Billion Infrastructure Plan 

Gov. Tim Walz has signed a $2.6 billion public infrastructure package, the largest in state history and the biggest bipartisan success of an often-partisan legislative session. 

The two bills together use $1.5 billion in borrowing and $1.1 billion in cash to fund a long list of projects statewide. They include roads and bridges, bus rapid transit lanes, drinking water and wastewater treatment plant upgrades, construction at state-run and tribal colleges and universities, facilities for state parks and trails, affordable housing and community centers, to name just a few categories. And the state money will leverage hundreds of millions of dollars in federal funds. 

The Democratic governor signed the legislation just upstream from the landmark Hennepin Avenue bridge over the Mississippi River in downtown Minneapolis, where then-Gov. Rudy Perpich signed a projects bill in 1988 that funded construction of the span. The new package includes $3.5 million for predesign work ahead of eventual renovations to the busy bridge. 

Most of the projects are of interest primarily in their local communities, but the governor and other officials said the entire state will benefit from the jobs and the economic development that the total package will generate. 

Rhode Island To Require Statewide Lead Pipe Replacement Within Decade 

A bill that would require the replacement of lead pipes across Rhode Island over the next decade has been approved by state lawmakers. 

The bill would create a lead water supply replacement program for both public and private service lines, with a requirement that all affected lines be replaced within 10 years. The Senate previously approved the bill. 

Under the bill, financial assistance for lead pipe replacement would be provided through the Rhode Island Infrastructure Bank, including no-cost options for property owners. To help develop the state’s workforce, the legislation would set requirements for water suppliers and contractors to participate in apprenticeship programs. 

The bill would require water suppliers to create a service line inventory no later than Oct. 16, 2024, to determine the existence or absence of lead within each water connection in its service area. 

It would also establish new notification and reporting requirements for suppliers to ensure transparency in the identification and replacement of service lines containing lead. 

The bill would also require a lead risk assessment be conducted for any home built before 2011 as part of any transaction involving the property. Currently, those assessments are required only for homes built prior to 1978. 

Arizona Governor Ends Water Dispute with New Legislation 

Legislation that resolves the water supply problem of a small unincorporated community outside the upscale city of Scottsdale was signed into law by Gov. Katie Hobbs. 

The bill approved by the state Legislature in June obligates Scottsdale to provide Rio Verde Foothills with access to city water. The law aims to ensure that small communities like Rio Verde Foothills have access to water in a state plagued with water supply problems. 

Several hundred people living in the community had been anxious for a solution after Scottsdale cut off water access on Jan. 1, saying it needed to ensure its own residents had enough water during a severe drought. 

Before the cutoff, Scottsdale had allowed water haulers to use a city standpipe to take water to residents of Rio Verde Foothills, who store their water in big tanks. 

Mississippi Losing $50 Million a Year on Jackson Water Fees 

Mississippi’s capital is collecting only a little more than half of the money it bills for water use, far below the rate at which most American cities obtain such fees, Jackson’s federally appointed water manager said. 

Ted Henifin, appointed in November by a federal court to help improve Jackson’s troubled water system, told reporters the city is collecting about 56% of the water fees it issues. That compares to an industry-standard above 95%, he said. The uncollected bills equate to about $50 million a year in lost revenue for the city, where roughly a quarter of residents live in poverty. 

The revenue losses sharpen the financial strain of the hefty debt burden Jackson faces for its water system. 

“We need to get our financial house in order for the water system,” Henifin said. “In order to do that, we have to get the debt off the books.” 

The city needs to pay down about $280 million in outstanding debt on the water system. About $23 million of that is private bond debt the city must pay annually, Henifin said. On top of the debt, the city needs enough dollars for costly improvements to a water system that has fallen into disrepair. 

Repeated breakdowns in Jackson have caused many in the city of about 150,000 residents to go days and weeks at a time without safe running water. Last August and September, people waited in lines for water to drink, bathe, cook and flush toilets. 

Nevada Senator Proposes Water Pipeline Through Conservation Area 

A proposal to tunnel beneath a national conservation area to install a second pipeline to deliver Colorado River water to a large swath of suburban Las Vegas has drawn support from Nevada’s senior Democratic senator. 

U.S. Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto announced she introduced legislation in June asking Congress to let the Southern Nevada Water Authority construct the underground pipeline through part of Sloan Canyon National Conservation Area. 

“This legislation will increase the capacity of our entire water system in the (Las Vegas) valley while protecting our unique ecosystems and the residents and businesses in Henderson,” Cortez Masto said in a statement. 

Federal funds are not part of the $2.5 billion project cost, and construction is not expected to begin for at least two years, said Bronson Mack, water authority spokesman. Construction is not expected to disturb the desert surface, although survey work would be conducted. 

Southern Nevada water users will fund the work, Mack said, and the approximate 40-mile pipeline won’t increase the amount of water the region draws from the drought-depleted Lake Mead reservoir behind Hoover Dam. The Las Vegas area, in the Mojave Desert, is home to 2.4 million residents and attracts some 40 million visitors per year. It is almost completely dependent on water from the Colorado River. 

San Francisco Gets $369 Million Loan for Stormwater Infrastructure Upgrades 

San Francisco officials and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced a loan worth $369 million through the Water Infrastructure and Innovation Act to improve storm drains and other infrastructure in the city. 

Transporting wastewater and stormwater flows to treatment facilities will become more efficient with improvements to pump stations. Developments include construction of the new Treasure Island Wastewater Treatment Plant to meet future water demands. 

The funding comes on the heels of storm drain system failures last winter. The loan will help the city fund “resiliency projects” to relieve areas prone to flooding with stormwater upgrades. SFPUC will “modernize aging wastewater and stormwater infrastructure to enhance seismic resiliency,” according to television station KRON4. 

Companies Reach $1.18 Billion Deal to Resolve PFAS Pollution Complaints 

Three chemical companies said they had reached a $1.18 billion deal to resolve complaints of polluting many U.S. drinking water systems with potentially harmful compounds known as PFAS. 

DuPont de Nemours Inc., The Chemours Co. and Corteva Inc. said they would establish a fund to compensate water providers for contamination with the chemicals used widely in nonstick, water- and grease-resistant products, as well as some firefighting foams. 

Described as “forever chemicals” because they don’t degrade naturally in the environment, PFAS have been linked to a variety of health problems, including liver and immune-system damage and some cancers. 

The compounds have been detected at varying levels in drinking water around the nation. The Environmental Protection Agency in March proposed strict limits on two common types, PFOA and PFOS, and said it wanted to regulate four others. Water providers would be responsible for monitoring their systems for the chemicals. 

The agreement would settle a case involving a claim by Stuart, Florida, one of about 300 communities that have filed similar suits since 2018 against companies that produced firefighting foam or the PFAS it contained. 

DOE Progresses on Underground Ventilation Shaft at Nuclear Repository 

The U.S. Department of Energy says it’s making progress on a new ventilation shaft at the nation’s only underground nuclear repository that will allow the facility to ramp up operations as it disposes of tons of waste from decades of research and bomb making. 

Contractors dug more than a third of a mile into the New Mexico desert to build the shaft and were about 250 feet from reaching the final depth in mid-June. 

Ventilation at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant has been an issue since 2014, when a radiation release contaminated parts of the underground facility and forced an expensive, nearly three-year closure. 

Carved out of a salt formation, the subterranean landfill located outside of Carlsbad received its first shipment of radioactive waste in 1999. The idea is that the shifting salt will eventually entomb the waste. 

Officials said about 13,000 yards of concrete were used to line part of the new utility shaft, while the remainder will be lined with steel mesh and bolts to keep the salt walls in place. The work involves geological mapping, drilling and blasting before all the material is excavated to make way for the shaft. 

Officials said the whole ventilation system is expected to be done by mid-2025.

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